Monday, July 18, 2016

In the Gloaming

Given the recent end of my long-term relationship, you probably won't be too surprised to hear that my emotional state has been a bit volatile as of late.  One moment I'm feeling excited by the freedom and possibility that being single brings; the next moment I'm overwhelmed by sadness at everything that has been lost.  While I have still managed to do all of the things that I need to, getting through the days hasn't always felt great.

Tonight though, things were momentarily really good.  I had to bring my bike home from my ex-girlfriend's parents' house, where I had stored it over the winter, and I just happened to do so right at dusk.  The temperature was warm enough to be comfortable but cool enough that I didn't break a sweat; the air was still; and the clear sky transformed from pale blue to pink to indigo as I rode the bike home.  My out of shape muscles enjoyed being challenged, and my constantly busy mind reveled in being able to shift down a few gears.  It was as close to perfect as life ever gets.

I have gotten through the past few weeks by constantly reminding myself that things will get better.  Tonight though, if only for a brief moment, things already were.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Taking the Real World with You

When I went to Chicago for the first time in 2012, I had just finished my first month as a senior resident in a Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit.  That rotation was one of the most difficult months of my entire training.  My medical knowledge and patient management skills were challenged beyond anything I had ever experienced, and I lived in constant fear that my ignorance and/or incompetence was going to kill someone.  With only three residents in the unit, we were forced to take call every third night*, such that I was making difficult patient care decisions through a haze of severe sleep deprivation. 

And then there were the patients.

Because the unit was home to the sickest patients in the hospital, death was a constant presence.  The worst night of my training happened in that unit:  over the course of a 15-hour overnight period, I admitted or ran a code on eight patients, not a single one of whom survived to the morning**.  At 8 am, one of my co-residents walked into the unit, looked at the near-empty patient list, and nonchalantly commented "Oh, looks like you had a quiet night".  In another situation her comment would've made me bawl, but I was too emotionally drained to do anything more than put my head on the desk and moan.  It was a hard month.

My ICU rotation was followed by two weeks of vacation, which I had initially planned to spend relaxing at home and visiting with friends and family.  But as I dragged myself through the too-long days of ICU, subsisting on digestive biscuits and ice cream cups that were intended for patients, I knew that I needed something better to look forward to in order to make it to the end of the rotation.  So, a few days before I was finished with ICU, while lying nearly immobile on my couch in a post-call stupor, I booked an impromptu trip to Chicago.  Leaving at 6 am on the first day of my vacation.

It was an amazing trip.  Chicago was a beautiful city filled with interesting places to visit and a seemingly unending list of great places to eat.  The weather was perfect.  I lucked out and got a great hotel room on the 22nd floor that looked directly towards the Chicago River and the Wrigley Building.  And for one week I didn't have to take orders or give orders or feel people's pulses slip away as I held my hand over their femoral arteries.  It was the perfect escape.

I had hoped that my trip to Chicago this past weekend would be just as amazing.  And I will say that it was mostly fun, lest I seem ungrateful for having the good fortune to be able to travel to such a remarkable place.  I got to show my Mom a city that I love; I got to meet Carlos from Top Chef season 11 and eat in his amazing restaurant; and I left the pressures of work behind for four days.


My family is not always easy.  My Mom is going through a difficult period, still struggling to cope with the death of my father six years ago, and there was understandably a lot of time and attention devoted to what she's going through.  She also snores.  Loudly.  And unpredictably.  I spent the first night on the couch to get away from her, and the second night I severely pissed her off by making her sleep in my brother's room.  Thankfully he is so perpetually exhausted that he can sleep through anything.

And then there's my brother.  While I love him (really...I love him), he and I see the world through very different lenses***.  I am an unapologetically left-wing, environmentally minded, socialistic granola cruncher.  My brother takes ten napkins at Chipotle and throws out nine unused ones.  If we could simply agree to disagree, we would probably get along much better; however, we both think that we have all the answers to the world's problems, and we are determined to share them with each other.  So there was some conflict.  He said I was judgemental.  I may have called him an asshole.

The good thing about family is that they are always your family.  Even if you call them an asshole.

*The resident contract in my province stipulates that residents cannot take call more than once every four days, on average; however, in situations where "patient care would otherwise be compromised", that rule can be overlooked.  Hence the one-in-three call.

**I refuse to believe that this reflects on my skill as a physician in any way.  The patients were simply that sick.  Most of them didn't make it to the end of the code blue.

***Thankfully he isn't a Trump supporter.  There are some things that I cannot forgive, even when it's family.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


By the time I left on my recent trip, I was in desperate need of a break.  I needed to not have to make life or death decisions and to not carry a pager and to not have to be witness to the inevitable human suffering that accompanies medicine.  I was spent.

Unfortunately, the Middle East is not the most relaxing place to visit*, and traveling with one's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and her family does not make the experience any easier.  At the end of my trip, I felt just as stressed as I had been at the beginning, and things have only gotten worse as a result of 1) the subsequent breakup and 2) a very long and busy week on call. 

Thankfully, I'm spending this upcoming weekend in Chicago.  My Mom turned 65 last December, and my brother and I decided to mark the occasion with a family getaway**.   We leave at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to be away.  I am ready to see beautiful architecture and eat tasty Top Chef winner cooking and not worry about anything.  All of the problems of the real world are just going to have to wait until Monday.

*Particularly as an LGBTTQ person.

**We deferred the trip until the weather was likely to be good and until my brother's and my call schedules aligned.  Bloody call.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Life is a strange contrast at the moment.  I am on call for the week, so my days are run-off-my-feet busy between my regular clinic schedule and the added inpatient service.  I am constantly scribbling notes in a chart while balancing my cell phone on my shoulder, or listening to my resident present a patient while I not so inconspicuously scan blood work on the computer.  I start my days anxious and I finish them overwhelmed, uncertain of where I will get the energy to do it all again tomorrow. 

And then I go home.  My pager is relatively silent most evenings, my apartment even more so.  My dining room table is empty, the jacket and wallet and keys that used to live there now scattered across the dining room table at my ex-girlfriends' family home.  Beyond feeding myself and the two cats, there is nothing that I have to do.  I read for a few minutes, then watch tv for a few minutes, then stare at the cats willing them to be better conversationalists.  Occasionally they purr, and I tell myself that they are trying to make me happy, although I am well aware that cats are inherently assholes.

I don't know what to do with myself.

For two years, my life was filled with her and with the bustle of activities that filled her restless, extroverted life.  The first day after the breakup, my introverted self reveled in the stillness of her absence, but as time passes stillness transforms into tedium.  There is no shortage of things I should do - the not quite unpacked suitcase from our trip is still on my bedroom floor, and there are always dishes - but I am longing to want to do something.  I am five-year-old me, whining at my mother: "I'm bored".

"Clean your room," she replies, and the answer is as unsatisfying now as it was 34 years ago.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Two major events happened last week.

First, I finally hit the zero point on my net worth.  After two years of budgeting and frugal(ish) living, I finally dug myself out of the hole that medical training and lots of careless spending created.  I feel a little bit lighter and a little bit less stressed, but it hasn't been quite as momentous an achievement as I had hoped.  Now that I am officially worthless (ha ha), I want to actually start accumulating some money.  An emergency fund!  A down payment on a home!  Apparently I'm incapable of being satisfied with where I am in life.

Second...I broke up with my girlfriend of two years.

It's hard to know what to say about this, because there are so many things at play in a breakup, and they never quite fit together into a coherent story.  It's inevitably messy.  I can say that it was my decision, that I had a sense it was coming for a while, that I'm doing okay.  That it is very strange to watch carloads of her things disappear from my small apartment and to see my old life emerging from underneath them.  That the worst thing in the world is hurting someone you love.  There is so much more.

For now, one of the many songs that I'm listening to, over and over again.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Wow, that went by quickly.

After a day and a half of lying in bed, never far from the bathroom and a large bottle of water, we recovered from our food poisoning and resumed our traveling.  We had a few more days in Cairo, followed by three nights in Athens, three nights on a Greek island (Aegina), and a week in Amman, Jordan.  The days were very full, between being tourists and visiting family, so there never seemed to be a spare moment to update the blog.  Even my Facebook photos are a solid two weeks behind.

I would like to say more, but at the moment I've been awake and traveling for almost 26 hours (it's like being on call), and the cats get annoyed when I use my hands for typing instead of petting.  All I will say for now is that it was an amazing trip; the Middle East is a place unlike any I've ever been before.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The (Hopefully) Lowest Point of Our Trip

Me to my girlfriend at 3 am this morning:  "I think I'm going to have diarrhea again.  Do you need to vomit, or can I use the bathroom first?"